As Louisiana cleans up the mess left behind by Hurricane Ida, the threat of electrical injury increases.
The strong winds associated with Hurricane Ida caused poles and energized power lines to break and fall in commercial and residential neighborhoods. Utility workers from other states that may be unfamiliar with the configuration of local electrical grids are tasked with helping repair Louisiana’s damaged system. These realities increase the risk of electrical injuries to both laymen and professional utility workers in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.
The increased risk of electrical injury is not unique to Hurricane Ida. In 2020, following Hurricane Zeta, a New Orleans man was electrocuted after coming in contact with an energized power line. In the aftermath of Hurricane Laura in 2020, a 25-year-old man from Natchitoches died after being electrocuted by a downed power line.
The Danger of Electricity to the Human Body
The overhead power lines that blanket our communities carry electricity in the range of 7,000 to 24,000 volts. As a means of comparison, for many years, our most violent criminal offenders were sentenced to death by the electric chair. The electric chair used between 500 and 2,000 volts of electricity and was outlawed by most states as cruel and unusual punishment.
High voltage electricity can cause devastating injuries to the human body. The extent to which such electricity affects the body is complex and not yet fully understood by scientists and physicians in the medical community.
In most electrical contact incidents, the electricity entering the body typically produces a charring burn wound, while the exiting electricity may destroy muscle and tissue in an explosive pattern. Hands and feet where electricity exits the body can be so severely damaged that amputation is necessary. Extensive burn injuries can occur to large portions of the skin if the clothing of the injury victim catches on fire during the event.
High voltage electricity can destroy the brain and central nervous system. Victims of high voltage electricity may begin to experience severe neurological deficits years after an electrical contact. Victims may begin to experience devastating symptoms resembling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Such symptoms may include permanent cognitive deficits, seizures, muscle atrophy, and even quadriplegia or paraplegia. Many scientists believe that this delayed onset of neurological problems occurs because high voltage electricity changes the body at a cellular level. Cells change and begin to die more rapidly, causing the body to essentially decay from the inside out. Common tests such as MRIs and CAT scans cannot show such changes at a cellular level.
The Responsibility Of Power Companies During Hurricane Ida Clean Up
Power companies are essentially monopolies that are regulated by governmental agencies. In Louisiana, power companies are regulated by the Public Service Commission. Like most companies, electric utility companies are motivated by profit.
Unfortunately, in an effort to get meters running again quickly after a hurricane so as to continue generating profits, some power companies cut corners during the restoration effort. As a result, the line men and women who work tirelessly after a storm to return power to communities are subjected to an increased risk of danger. Likewise, the average citizen is subjected to an increased risk of an electrical contact.
In Louisiana, power companies are required by law to use the “utmost care” to reduce potential hazards to the general public. This requirement does not change even after a major hurricane. Power companies are required to recognize that people may make mistakes and unknowingly venture too close to electrical lines. Companies must account for this reality when determining how best to safeguard the public from their power lines.
Power companies must take the steps necessary to quickly de-energize and tag downed power lines during the clean-up process so as to prevent the public from coming in contact with such hazards. The companies are responsible for working with police and other emergency personnel to ensure that areas around downed energized power lines are properly barricaded so as to prevent the unknowing public from stumbling upon such a dangerous situation.
Power companies with damaged infrastructure not only owe a duty to the general public but also to visiting workers from other states. Line men and women from other states often come to work in Louisiana after hurricanes as part of a mutual assistance agreement between groups of utility companies. In such situations, the power company that owns the damaged lines and infrastructure must help keep visiting crews safe.
Power companies often assign visiting crews individuals called “circuit bosses.” “Circuit bosses” are employees of the host company that are most knowledgeable of the damaged electrical circuits and can properly advise and supervise crews from other states. These “circuit bosses” provide the visiting crews with important maps and other resources that show how certain lines and circuits connect to each other. These maps help prevent line men and women from inadvertently energizing sections of the circuit while crews are working on lines in other areas. The “circuit bosses” and other personnel of the hosting utility company are vital to keeping line men and women safe during a hurricane clean up.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an electrical accident following Hurricane Ida, learn more about your legal rights from an experienced Louisiana electrical injury attorney. The law firm of Herman, Herman & Katz has extensive experience handling these complex cases on behalf of injured line men and women and their families as well as the general public.
For more information about how we can help you, contact us online or call us toll-free at 844-943-7626.
Jed Cain is a partner with Herman, Herman & Katz, LLC. He has dedicated his career to representing injured folks and their families.